Biff Mitchell Writes World’s First Laundromance
Summary: Author Biff Mitchell’s novel, Heavy Load, may be the start of a new genre of fiction: the laundromance. Heavy Load, originally published in Australia, is now a self-published book available at eBookAd and CyberRead.
“Heavy Load was inspired by a laundromat,” said Mr. Mitchell. “It was inspired by all the hours I spent sitting around in a laundromat watching my clothing spinning around in the dryer. It’s the sort of thing that puts you in a reflective mood. I began to wonder what stories a laundromat would tell if it could talk.”
“From then on,” said Mr. Mitchell, “I began taking a notebook to the laundromat. I studied the other people doing their laundry and made detailed descriptions of them. I made guesses about their lives based on what I could see of their laundry. I listened to the sounds of the laundromat and tried to recreate them with words. I studied the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the machines…every inch of the building, and eventually filled four notebooks.”
On one of these occasions, Mr. Mitchell narrowly escaped a violent confrontation. “I was watching a very large and mean-looking man who was dumping his white and colored clothing into the same machine. I was half-tempted to warn him, but I was furiously making notes. He noticed me watching him and walked over to where I was sitting. He was about 30 pounds heavier than me. He asked me if I wanted a picture or a punch in the face. I told him neither. I was glad he didn’t notice that I was making notes. I’d just described him as one of the ugliest cusses I’d ever seen. I used him as a pervert in the novel.”
“For back stories,” said Mr. Mitchell, “I went to the notes I’d made while working as a bartender for six years. My customers would get drunk and tell me their stories. The drunker they were, the more detailed the stories, and the more personal. They told me things they would likely not even have told their dogs or cats. At the end of each night, I went home and made notes, thousands of pages of notes.”
“Heavy Load is based on observation and listening,” said Mr. Mitchell. “That’s what gives it the gritty, and sometimes seamy, feel that Deborah Fisher in Tregolwyn Reviews describes as ‘the unfashionable idea that ordinary, everyday life is worth observing’ in her review of the book.”
“I tried to create a window into ordinary life,” said Mr. Mitchell, “by studying ordinary people and not elevating their lives to some kind of literary plateau, but by just keeping things simple and everyday.”
Depicting everyday life is one of the six elements of a laundromance, according to Mr. Mitchell. “You can’t hide the stains and dirt on your laundry,” he said. “The laundromat sees it all, which leads us into the second element of a laundromance: it must be narrated by the laundromat.”
Heavy Load is in fact narrated by the Washing Green Laundromat, “the biggest, coolest, most-up-to-date, user-friendly, human/machine integrated, full service laundromat in town.”
“I used a sentient, mind and body-reading laundromat as the narrator,” said Mr. Mitchell, “because a laundromat is a place where people have to wait, a place where people think and daydream. The laundromat has plenty of time to delve into the lives of its customers. It’s the perfect storyteller.”
“And, of course, there must be an element of romance,” said Mr. Mitchell. “In Heavy Load, the romance is a triangle of interest between two men and a woman. They eye each other. They think about each other as the laundromat explores their past lives. They watch for opportunities with each other, but they never speak a word to each other. That would break the triangle and cut the story short. And that’s why one of the elements of a laundromat is that none of the romantically involved characters are allowed to speak to each other. Not a word.”
According to Mr. Mitchell, a laundromance must include at least one laundry tip. “But there’s plenty of tips in Heavy Load,” he said. “I spent hours cruising the Web for tips and information on laundry. I found some really cool stuff on the Tide site, and I found entire lists of laundry tips written by people who use laundromats. I even discovered the secret of the missing sock. It’s in the first chapter.”
The last element of a laundromance is the theme: “things get dirty, things get clean…”
“A laundromat is very much a place of regeneration,” said Mr. Mitchell. “People bring in dirty clothing and leave with clean clothing. There’s something optimistic and uplifting about having newly cleaned clothing, almost like having a new wardrobe, except that tags and pins have already been removed. There’s even a reflective and zen-like element inherent in the various cycles of washing and drying and the folding and sorting. It’s a calming experience. Then, you wear the clothing and it gets dirty again. Just like life, it’s an endless cycle of problems and solutions, balance and imbalance, action and inaction. That’s why I like the cover by Brock Parks so much. The Yin-Yang symbol in the machine cuts straight to the main theme of the book.”
Called a “creative masterpiece” by Cynthia Penn in WordWeaving, Heavy Load is a novel of optimism. “I believe in our ability to make ourselves better than we are, and to discover great nobility in even the most ordinary lives,” said Mr. Mitchell. “What better stage for this discovery than a laundromat?”
Biff Mitchell is the author of the cyber thriller The War Bug, available from Double Dragon Publishing in ebook format and coming to bookstores this June in paperback. His satire on the IT industry, Team Player, will be published by Double Dragon in 2006. Two of his novellas, Smoke Break and The Baton, are available in ebook format from Echelon Press. For more about the works of Biff Mitchell visit: www.biffmitchell.com
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